Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

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Amish Exemptions

Many issues arise between the intersection between the Amish culture and the mainstream culture because the values are so different. This often means that the Amish are granted exemptions from laws that they feel infringe on their religious beliefs or practices.

Culturally, the Amish tend to be in touch with the precariousness of life and they believe that when our time is up, we die. In the mainstream culture, people have all kinds of insurance to shelter them from disaster and safety features in cars, homes, and workplaces. In short, people in the mainstream cutlure are much more risk-averse than the Amish are.

There are times when the mainstream culture tries to impose its values on the Amish, and in other instances, the Amish tend to impose theirs on the outside world. Most people see the former, but not the latter. Let me start with an example of just such a situation.

In upstate New York there has been an ongoing issue about making buggies more visible on public roads at night. The Amish there are Swartzentruber Amish, of the strictest kind. They don't believe in displaying orange SMV triangles on their buggies, even though most other Amish groups do. They also do not allow battery-operated lights on their buggies, and to make things more restrictive, they only allow a kerosene-burning lamp on ONE side of the buggy, not both. This caused issues with the motorists on the road, who found the buggies impossible to see at night. So the county legislature tried to enforce the Amish to display the triangles.

By refusing to comply with the laws and making their buggies more visible, I believe the Amish were imposing their values on the mainstream culture. Just because they are willing to take the risks that driving their (nearly) invisible buggies on the public roads at night, they were forcing the rest of the culture to take risks that most people would consider unnecessary. Back in April, I wrote an opinion piece for the Watertown Daily Times concerning this issue.

There was a report in the Watertown Daily Times yesterday about the agreement that was reached between the Amish leaders and the legislators in which the Amish have agreed to double the amount of reflective tape on their buggies, not just on the back, but on both sides and on the front. I am glad that the sides reached an agreement. Making the buggies more visible at night is the objective. However, I noticed that this is a voluntary agreement, which means that if the Amish don't follow through on this agreement, we will be hearing about this issue again. It's human nature to follow rules for which there are consequences, and ignore those that don't. I think the legislators should at least have asked for the Amish to mount a lamp on BOTH sides of their buggies. It makes sense that two lamps make more light than one.

There is another ongoing issue in Kentucky that has been in the news quite a bit lately. In this case, two Amish men are serving jail sentences over horse manure on the city streets of Auburn. The city passed an ordinance that requires horses to wear "collection devices" within the city limits and Amos Mast and his son Dan were cited for not complying. They refused to pay the fines and the case went to court. They still refused to pay the fines and are choosing to serve time in jail instead.

This issue is not one that has to do with religious beliefs. It is a much more practical issue of how to mount a collection device on a horse that doesn't spook it. Because they are animals with instincts, anything touching their back end or their heels hitting something as they run, is equivalent to a stranger coming up from behind and touching or poking you when you didn’t even know anyone was around. And cleaning up after the horse is just as impractical. Imagine what it would do to the congestion on the city streets if the Amish drivers had to stop every time a horse made a deposit. In the case of there being one occupant in the buggy, what is he to do with the horse while he's cleaning up?

In this case, I think that the mainstream culture is trying to impose its values on the Amish. By passing such an ordinance, the city officials were targeting the Amish and making it difficult for them to practice their way of life. Horse manure is biodegradeable. The emissions from cars are not. Having the streets of Auburn, Kentucky free of horse manure is less of a problem than the safety issues caused by cleaning up the city streets or spooking the horses.

This issue is not a new one and it concerns everyone who lives around the Amish. A Google search turned up newspaper reports about communities in Loyal, Wisconsin; Brown City, Michigan; Huevelton and Gouverneur, New York; and Negley, Ohio, In 2006, there was a mystery concerning horse manure that brings comic relief to this issue in my home community of Middlefield, Ohio.

So in the first case, I don't think the Amish should have gotten an exemption, and in the second case, I think they should have (or that the ordinance should not have been passed in the first place). I will be writing about more Amish exemptions in my next post. Feel free to let me know of any you're curious about.

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